atmospheres on Mars and Venus and compare and contrast them with the Earth’s weather. Mars and Venus are Earth’s closest neighbors, and it could be assumed their weather is similar to Earth’s weather, but nothing could be further from the truth. The weather on Mars and Venus is far different from Earth’s, and cannot support life, as we know it on our planet. However, there are also some startling similarities between our weather and the weather on these neighboring planets, as well.
Earth is the third planet from the sun, and Mars is the fourth. One of the biggest differences between Earth and Mars is Mars’ atmosphere. The BBC weather Web site notes, “Mars’ atmosphere is very different to ours, and weighs less than 1% of Earth’s, as it is made up principally of carbon dioxide with small amounts of other gases, including neon, water, nitrogen, argon and oxygen” (“Mars”). Since the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is so small on Mars, humans would not be able to breathe the air, and some sort of breathing apparatus would have to be worn during exploration of the planet.
The temperatures on Mars are cooler than Earth, which makes sense since the planet is further away from the sun and does not receive as much warmth. In fact, it receives about half the solar energy the Earth enjoys (Brillo). However, there is a greenhouse effect on Mars, due to all the carbon dioxide in the air, which helps keep the planet a bit warmer, but it is not nearly as significant as the greenhouse effect here on Earth. Writer Brillo continues, “As on Earth, the gas has a greenhouse effect. But the Martian atmosphere is too thin to achieve much in the way of global warming” (Brillo). The average temperatures on Mars range from -140C (-220 degrees F) to 20C (68 degrees F). With these extreme temperature changes, it would be difficult to live on Mars – climate controlled environments would have to be used for a majority of time on the planet.
Mars weather resembles the Earth’s weather in many respects. Clouds form on the planet on occasion, and they are usually made up of ice crystals or carbon dioxide. The ice crystals come from Mars polar ice caps, but since Mars is a desert, it seems that these ice crystals rarely fall back to the planet in the form of rain. Storms are also quite common on Mars, and there have even been sightings and photographs of cyclones and other major storm disturbances on the planet, just as we have here on Earth.
Mars is famous for magnificent dust storms, as well. Scientists believe these massive storms can reach gusts of 300 miles per hour, while normal winds on Mars can average as little as 15 miles per hour or less. Brillo continues, “These dust storms often take place regionally, but in some years they seem to combine to form a dust-laden tempest that can cover the whole planet” (Brillo). These winds have sculpted the planet’s surface, and created great sand dunes on some areas of the planet.
One thing Mars weather does not have is rain. The planet seems to be bone dry, although there is evidence of former channels of water on the planet. No one knows what happened to the water, and tests by the Mars rovers and other equipment have not shown any evidence of water on the planet. In fact, water cannot exist in liquid form on Mars, because the pressure and temperature of the Martian atmosphere only allows water in the form of ice or vapor. Therefore, unlike Earth, which is covered in water and enjoys healthy rainfall and snowfall, the only thing that can fall on Mars is solid carbon dioxide, which makes up most of the polar ice caps, as well (Brillo). Thus, the Earth’s atmosphere is conducive to rain, and therefore life, while Mars atmosphere definitely is not conducive to water, an essential for life on that or any planet.
Mars tilts on an axis similar to Earth’s, and rotates around the sun in a similar manner, so Mars has four seasons just as Earth does. The seasons are also opposite depending on which hemisphere of Mars you are in, just the same as Earth’s seasons are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres. However, Mars’ rotation around the sun takes much longer, so their seasons are about twice as long as a season on Earth. Martian days, however, are only about 40 minutes longer than Earth’s.
Venus is the second planet from the sun, and its proximity makes it much hotter than Earth. In fact, Venus, covered continually in clouds, is hotter than Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. Surface temperatures on Venus can reach over 903 degrees F, which is hot enough to melt lead (“Venus”). Venus’ atmosphere is extremely dense, and made up mostly of carbon dioxide. This helps create massive pressure on the surface of the planet, which is about 100 times more pressure than we experience here on Earth. As with our atmosphere, there are some other trace gases and elements in Venus’ atmosphere. The BBC weather Web site continues, “Venus’ atmosphere has had some other gases detected – hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid were discovered in 1967, carbon monoxide was noticed in 1968, water in 1972, and sulphuric acid was found six years later. In addition small amounts of oxygen, argon and neon have been detected too” (“Venus”). Again, this atmosphere would be impossible for people to breathe on their own, and breathing apparatus would be necessary for any visit to Venus, as would some kind of climate control that could withstand the great temperatures and storms that often cover the planet.
Venus is completely covered in clouds. Scientists believe the clouds are two or more miles thick, and that they are made up of sulphuric acid. These clouds move extremely fast, about three times faster than the most extreme hurricanes, and they seem to have several distinct layers made up of haze and clouds at different levels (“Venus”). The weather on Venus is much more of a massive scale than on Earth. Scientists have observed massive clouds of haze that quickly envelop the entire planet, and then just as suddenly disappear (“Venus Express”). The Venus Express project has special cameras studying Venus to learn more about its weather and in 2007, they captured images of one of these massive clouds of haze. Their Web site notes, “Within days, the high-altitude veil continually brightened and dimmed, moving towards equatorial latitudes and back towards the pole again” (“Venus Express”). Storms can be much faster on Venus, and they can envelop the entire planet at once, unlike Earth, which experiences numerous different weather patterns at the same time around the globe.
There are also incredible storms on Venus that indicate Venus experiences thunder and lightening just as Earth does. The BBC continues, “They think the storms possibly occur in the afternoon, like here, and is probably related to clouds on the surface” (“Venus”). Some, however, believe the storms may be due to some type of volcanic activity. Recently, scientists have discovered ways to “see” through the clouds, such as using magnetic antennas, which what originally showed the lightening activity on the planet. The discovery of lightening is extremely important. Another scientist says, “The finding is significant because lightning affects atmospheric chemistry, so scientists will have to take it into account as they try to understand the atmosphere and climate of Venus” (Borenstein). Measurements have shown the lightening travels from cloud-to-cloud, and occurs about 35 miles above the planet. This is important because lightening can affect atmospheric chemistry, which means the atmosphere on Venus could actually change or transform, and scientists have to know this to truly understand just how the atmosphere on Venus really works (Borenstein).
Venus does not experience high winds near the planet’s surface, in fact, there is little wind, and it is quite mild. However, at the tops of the clouds, winds can reach up to 220 miles per hour or more, and this may be one reason the solar winds given off by the sun are disrupted when the reach Venus. Scientists also believe that Venus once had oceans quite similar to those on Earth, but they boiled away because of the planet’s extreme heat. It is more difficult to study the weather on Venus because of the dense cloud cover that is always present over the planet.
Venus has very different seasons, as well. It takes about 243 of our Earth days for the planet to make one full circle, but it circles the sun in only 224 days, which means that a Venus year is only 224 days, while a Venus day is 243 hours long. It also spins backward to Earth, meaning the sun rises in the west and sets in the east (“Venus”). Obviously, with such temperature extremes, there is no sign of life on Venus, but scientists believe life could have occurred on Venus shortly after it was formed, and before it heated up so dramatically.
In conclusion, both of these planets, which are closest to the Earth in miles, are a world away in their weather and atmosphere. Mars is a desert planet of extremes that can be exceedingly cold and enormously windy, while Venus is a planet covered in clouds and extremely hot. Both planets have several weather-related events that are quite similar to Earth, but there are shocking differences, as well. As scientists continue to study the weather on these planets, they will continue to learn more about their atmospheres, storms, and other weather events. Eventually, they may discover a way for humans to survive, or at least visit these remarkable planets that are “right next door.”
Borenstein, Seth. “Like Earth, Venus Has Bursts of Lightning.” Discovery.com. 2008. 1 April 2008. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/11/28/venus-lightning-space.html
Brillo. “Martian Weather.” Ozgate.com. 2008. 1 April 2008. http://www.ozgate.com/infobytes/mars_weather.htm
Editors. “The Planets – Mars.” BBC.com. 2008. 1 April 2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/features/planet_mars.shtml
Editors. “The Planets – Venus.” BBC.com. 2008. 1 April 2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/features/planet_venus.shtml
Editors. “Venus Express.” ESA.int. 2008. 1 April 2008. http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Venus_Express/SEMIVTVHJCF_0.html
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